Herschel Discovers Uranus

On March 13, 1781, William Herschel, dubbed the father of modern astronomy, discovered Uranus from his back garden in Bath, England. Or at least that’s how the legend goes. Many people had seen the planet before, but thought it was a star.

Herschel’s discovery of Uranus was a happy accident. He had been systematically surveying the night sky when he noticed one star that seemed different. Herschel became an overnight sensation with his discovery.

He also built many telescopes over his lifetime, often grinding his own glass and making his own eyepieces. Herschel’s other achievements included hypothesizing that stars make up nebulae (or star nurseries as I like t call them) and proposing a theory of stellar evolution. For the latter, Herschel suggested that as time goes by, scattered stars condense together into tightly packed clusters.

As for Uranus, it’s the seventh planet from the sun. Only Neptune is farther away. Uranus’s air is not fit for breathing. It’s mostly hydrogen and helium with some methane, which give the icy planet its unique color. Uranus has rings, just like Saturn, 13 in all. The last two were found just seven years ago thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, which continues to provide a new view of the planet. So far scientists have found 27 moons orbiting the planet. And, to this writer’s delight, each one is named for a character from the works of William Shakespeare or Alexander Pope.

Do you have a child who wants to learn more? Check out NASA’s Solar System page for children…..here.

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5 responses to “Herschel Discovers Uranus

  1. Very interesting, Kirsten. You know, when my brother was a teenager he made a telescope and ground the glass and all that. It was VERY LARGE … and it is still in my parents’ living room 🙂

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